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Top five group games to watch out for at 2014 World Cup

Dec 6, 2013, 3:18 PM EDT

Confed Cup Spain AP

With several “Groups of Death” lined up my a mouth-watering World Cup draw in Brazil on Friday, there will be some massive games played at the 2014 World Cup before the knockout stages even arrive.

Usually we have to wait until the last 16, quarterfinals or semis to see some of the worlds best sides lock horns, but due to the extremely strong tournament in South America, plenty will clash just to try and get out of their respective groups.

So, let’s take a quick look at the top five games the group stages have thrown up.

12 June: Brazil v Croatia

This game will kick off the tournament and is sure to be a special event after the opening ceremony takes place. Sao Paolo is the venue and Brazil’s most populous city will see the home nation take on Croatia in a showpiece event. The Croats usually do well when they make it to the World Cup, in their short history as a nation they’ve already made the semifinals once, so look out for them to cause an upset. It will be a big ask in front of a partisan crowd ready to party and celebrate a big win for the host nation. That is what they will expect, the pressure is huge for Brazilian stars such as Neymar, Oscar and Fred. But this match is all about the people of Brazil coming together to celebrate the World Cup.

13 June: Spain v Netherlands

A rematch of the 2010 World Cup final on the second day of the tournament next summer, doesn’t get much better than that does it? Last time out the final in South Africa turned into a bit of a bloodbath as Holland flew into meaty challenges and Spain finally prevailed thanks to Andreas Iniesta’s extra-time goal breaking Dutch hearts. These nations have gone at it for decades in the big tournaments and this will be no different as both “golden generations” may see this as their last chance to grab a World Cup title for the national team. Can Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie and co. taste revenge in Salvador?

14 June: England v Italy

Italy lost in the final of Euro 2012 and look a solid and organized side under Cesare Prandelli. On their route to the final in Poland and Ukraine they beat England in the quarterfinals on penalties, as Roy Hodgson took over from Fabio Cappelo just before the tournament began. England will be hoping to not welt in the heat as both teams travel North to Manaus deep in the Amazon rainforest. That could slow the game down and suit Italy as Mario Balotelli clashes with Wayne Rooney and the Three Lions.

16 June: Germany v Portugal

In Group G, one of the “Groups of Death” the USA will be hoping this ends in a draw as two massive European nations lock horns in the opening game. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Mesut Ozil will be the talk of the town before the game, as Salvador will welcome two terrific soccer nations who are both ranked in the top five in the latest FIFA World Rankings and are expected to go deep in the tournament. Expect plenty of tough challenges, red cards and incidents, plus both teams are stacked with match-winners who can be the hero. You will not want to miss the match, especially as the USA have something riding on it.

source: Getty Images

Will the Italians triumph once again?

23 June: Chile v Spain

Perhaps not a massive rivalry like Germany v Portugal or England v Italy, this match will see two sides who play terrific brands of soccer go head-to-head in Rio de Janiero. Spain are the reigning World Champions and deserve the respect of everyone but if they don’t get a good result against the Netherlands in their opening group games, they’ll be up against it when they face South American outfit Chile. Alexis Sanchez, who plays his club soccer in Spain and is the key of Chile’s fantastic counter-attacking style, could damage Spain’s chances of a repeat, while Chile have been in and around the worlds top 10 for quite some time now. These two played in the group stages in South Africa in 2010 and it was perhaps my favorite game of the tournament to watch.

  1. futbolhistorian - Dec 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Croatia has only made one semi-final, not two (1998). Yugoslavia finished fourth in ’62, but that was before Croatian becoming an independent nation, as you alluded to in the story.

    • Joe Prince-Wright - Dec 6, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      Thanks for the heads up.

      Even once is incredible for a country of their size and like you mentioned, the region itself is rich in soccer heritage.

      So why can’t they upset Brazil?

      • tomcatfl - Dec 6, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Because they backed into the Cup in a run of terrible form, costing them their coach, and the new coach is unproven. They could finish second in the group, though, if they can regain their form from the beginning of qualifications.

  2. futbolhistorian - Dec 6, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    Historically, a team’s relative performance in European qualifying has a low correlation factor with that team’s performance in the World Cup. Croatia’s problem with Brazil is simply that it is Brazil. But the host country often times struggles in the opening game. Brazilian jitters may be something Croatia could exploit.

    By the time Brazil gets to game 2, they will be in full samba-futebol mode. Mexico, Cameroon watch out. Croatia may not get points against Brazil, but a low goal differential, perhaps -1, in that game could set them up nicely for a tie-breaking scenario with either Mexico or Cameroon, who will face a much more relaxed and tougher Brazilian side in games 2 and 3.

    • mvktr2 - Dec 6, 2013 at 6:13 PM

      If the Mexico of 2013 shows up to play Brazil it will be a lot worse than dos a cero!

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